As part of my author guest blog series I am proud to present another guest blog spot. The High King’s Vengeance and The Heir To The North I am very excited and Journeys that he is writing about today.the author of
So go get your copy!
by Steven Poore
Last year Nathan Hystad from Woodbridge Press invited me to contribute to Journeys – an anthology themed around the storytelling trope of the fantasy hero’s quest. Usually that journey is the centrepiece of an epic fantasy novel – think of Bilbo’s journey to the Lonely Mountain, or his nephew’s struggle across Middle Earth with the One Ring; or Garion’s constant crossing of borders in the Belgariad. Or look at the deeper journeys of Le Guin’s young magician Ged, or Joanne Hall’s Rhodri, or Joel Cornah’s Rob Sardan, changing internally as they cross their own worlds. It’s a theme as broad, or as narrow, as any one writer chooses it to be.
Which creates a challenge of its own – how on earth do you even start to write with so broad a brief?
A hard season, in a hard land, with ever less for ever fewer. On any day that the sun set and there was food to be shared, and a fire to warm it over – well, that day was a gift of sorts.
I’ll admit I got lucky. I had a half-baked idea and a story title that, with some hard work and a fair amount of squinting, would hopefully give the reader a new perspective on how a hero’s journey might change the hero beyond all recognition.
My epic fantasy duology (Heir to the North and The High King’s Vengeance) harks unashamedly back to the classic fantasy quest tropes of the 1980s, but it also plays around with them and looks at how heroes are constructed (sorry, deliberate pun there). That was still on my mind as I imagined a man (our “hero”, Kan) walking down into a near-barren valley, into a community menaced by outlaws and raiders. A man who could walk in, do a job, and walk away. Unharmed? Unchanged? Not quite.
And then he came.
I saw him first, a shade against the oncoming dusk, as he crested the hillside high above the old pastures. That trail used to lead to Oretsja, but those fields had lain fallow for years, and we had long since stripped the ground of anything we could use. Nobody lived there now.
It’s been done before, obviously. You’re probably already thinking of the Eastwood classic High Plains Drifter. But my initial half-baked idea was originally based as much on A Fistful of Dollars and Yojimbo, and I had intended it for inclusion in an anthology where all the stories were set in the real world, rather than in a secondary world. That stalled when I realised that trying to write something firmly set in Ainu animist culture when I knew absolutely nothing of that culture was probably a very bad idea (I said it was half-baked).
The story was shelved until Nathan got into contact. And then suddenly it made sense – it was about the community that the warrior enters, more than the hero himself. I could still keep the bleak, isolated feel of High Plains Drifter, by stripping out all extraneous details of the world and keeping it tightly contained within the one village, and the hero would still be a sort of echo from Heir to the North in his construction, even though this is definitely not that world.
This is our place. We belong nowhere else. Even if no one believes in the land, even if the Witness has turned away from us, it is our place.
Teresa Edgerton, the anthology’s editor, was concerned that the lack of worldbuilding might upset some readers, especially since the reasons for the village’s poverty are never fully explained, but I argued that the world itself wasn’t actually all that important. You could see it as a failing population, a sort of end-times where everybody is just about holding on and the memories of anything good are fading as fast as the world. The memories aren’t as important as survival itself. Kan’s journey through this world works in that context, as he loses his own memories the more he pursues his quest.
Both Heir to the North and The High King’s Vengeance are at heart optimistic in their outlook. Not “noblebright” fantasy (I saw that label online and instantly disliked it), but not Grimdark either. The Witness, on the other hand, is probably dead in the heart of Grimdark. It’s certainly a hard journey. And it goes to prove that every story is on a journey of its own, even if not all of them reach their final destinations the same way they started out.
Journeys is released by Woodbridge Press on Feb 15th 2017.
Steven Poore is an Epic Fantasist and SF Socialist. He lives in Sheffield with a crafty partner and a three-legged cat, and cannot move for towers of books. Heir To The North, published by Grimbold Books, was shortlisted for Best Newcomer at the British Fantasy Awards; the sequel, The High King’s Vengeance, is available now. You can also read some of Steven’s short fiction in the Fox Pockets series of anthologies by Fox Spirit Books. Steven hosts the semi-regular SFSF Social events in Sheffield, supported by the BSFA and BFS.
Epic Fantasist — SFSF Socialist
@stevenjpoore — @SFSFSocial
SOMETIMES THE JOURNEY IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN THE DESTINATION.
A stone from the starts rips a royal family apart, in a new tale from the banished lands. Weary hero Cam rides to the aid of his dying king, bearing the elixir that may save him. A party of reluctant adventurers pursues a troll across a snowy mountainside – or is it the troll who is hunting them?
Fourteen tales of daring, death, and glory, by fourteen talented writers.
Grab your map, sword, and magical amulet; your journey awaits.
With stories from:
John Gwynne, Adrian Tchaikovsky, Gail Z. Martin, Juliet E McKenna, Julia Knight, Juliana Spink Mills, Jacob Cooper, Samanda R Primeau, Steven Poore, Davis Ashura, Dan Jones, Charlie Pulsipher, Anna Dickinson, and Thaddeus White